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Safe meat through chemical treatment and irradiation?

19/2012, 04.06.2012

12th BfR Consumer Protection Forum on the subject of decontamination of food

The 12th BfR Consumer Protection Forum entitled “Improvement of Food Hygiene through Decontamination? Assessment of the Current Situation and Future Perspectives” will take place in Berlin Marienfelde on 4 and 5 June. On this occasion, experts from the worlds of science, business, politics and consumer associations will discuss the current state of knowledge regarding decontamination procedures and assess the possibilities of optimising meat hygiene. Decontamination of food aims to reduce and / or kill bacteria. For this purpose, numerous physical, biological and chemical procedures can be used. “The focus of food hygiene is of course on measures to prevent infections of animals during rearing, fattening and transportation. The goal is to prevent to the greatest extent possible contamination of the slaughtered animals and products with germs”, says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. “Decontamination procedures notably make sense where they complement general hygiene measures and if they make a long-term contribution to food safety”, Hensel continues his explanation.

Salmonella, campylobacter, EHEC and other microorganisms can cause severe diseases in humans. Consumers take it on trust that meat offered in shops is free of pathogenic germs. At all stages of the production and distribution chain, efforts are therefore made to avoid infection of animals and contamination of the carcases and food products with pathogenic germs – or at least to reduce such contamination to an acceptable level. Even where good food hygiene practice is most strictly implemented, this can never be fully achieved. Epidemiological studies show that campylobacter and salmonella bacteria can cause diseases following consumption of contaminated animal-based foods. In humans, these diseases cover the whole spectrum from slight symptoms to life-threatening conditions.

In the EU, the use of decontamination measures is currently discussed. The number of bacteria and pathogens could be reduced by such measures. These measures include, for example, treatment of food with UV light, ionised radiation or with chemical substances which work against bacteria.

In the USA poultry is sprayed with, among other things, chloric substances or peroxy acids or dipped in immersion cooling baths following slaughter for the purpose of decontamination. The treatment of food with ionised radiation is used in some EU countries for the purpose of preserving it and to reduce food-borne infections. Chemical decontamination procedures are not permitted in the EU as yet. The proposals of the EU Commission to allow four antimicrobial substances (chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate, and peroxy acids) for decontaminating poultry carcases have so far been rejected by the member states.

At the 12th BfR Consumer Protection Forum, experts discuss the current state of knowledge regarding the use and efficiency of decontamination procedures. Representatives from the worlds of science, business, politics and consumer associations discuss the possible spheres of activity, solutions and conclusions for consumer health protection. A special focus will be on the question whether food business operators and consumers in the EU may currently be deprived of a potentially suitable and safe procedure to ensure safer food. The justified user expectation for safe and hygienic food is irreconcilable with the fact that in Europe poultry is contaminated with zoonotic pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter.

As part of the BfR forum series on consumer protection, the BfR repeatedly deals with issues of consumer health protection which are currently relevant and of interest to a number of stakeholders. The forum serves as a platform on which the current scientific knowledge is presented and where, additionally, the practical and possible political consequences can be openly discussed.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.


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